Pol Gen Pracha Promnok's statement last week that peace talks in the South should continue and more groups be included is sensible and welcome. As TE Lawrence once wrote, one of the primary conditions for a successful guerrilla campaign is the support of the local population, or at least its refusal to help the authorities by providing them with intelligence. This is one of the reasons why security forces have had so little success in stopping the violence in the South and why the government is right to try to resolve the problem through talks.
The insurgent's goal is independence, but what the majority of people in the South want is increased autonomy, not independence. The government's strategy must be to work out a package that is sufficiently attractive to persuade a majority of southerners to side with them and thus drive a wedge between local people and the insurgents. If that could be achieved the insurgents might be prepared to drop their demand for independence. If not, the security forces would be in a much better position to defeat them.
The problem is that most southerners fear and distrust the Thai authorities as much as they do the insurgents. It is ridiculous to expect that the mistrust built up over many decades can be reversed in a handful of meetings over a couple of months. Nor is it sensible to believe that the Barisan Revolusi Nasional represent all strands of opinion in the South; the government should talk to anyone else who is prepared to meet, whether in public or in secret.
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